VANCOUVER –Hundreds of anti-Trump protesters waved signs and chanted on the streets of Vancouver on Tuesday while inside the newly completed Trump Tower, smiling members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s family snipped through a red ribbon to mark the grand opening of the latest addition to the city’s skyline.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, scions of the billionaire real-estate mogul turned politician, were in Vancouver to celebrate the completion of the $360-million hotel and condominium development, which has become a lightning rod for demonstrations against the American leader.
Eric, the younger of the two brothers, spoke glowingly of his family’s success over the past year, touting the Trump brand as one that continues to be synonymous with unrivalled class and quality.
“We’ve had an unbelievable past year on so many fronts as a family. We’ve opened so many great properties,” he told the official opening.
“This building now sits in a great portfolio of what we consider the best buildings in the world, best architectural masterpieces anywhere in the world. And that is what our brand is all about, that is what our father’s vision was all about, creating the most iconic buildings anywhere in the world.”
Trump’s daughter, Tiffany Trump, was also on hand for the occasion, along with the wives of Trump’s two sons.
Vancouver’s Trump International Hotel and Tower was built by developer Joo Kim Tiah, the president and CEO of Holborn Group, who is the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest businessmen.
The Trump Organization does not own the tower, but licensed its name for branding and marketing, while the Trump Hotel Collection operates the 147-room hotel. The building is a unique twisting structure designed by late architect Arthur Erickson.
A news release publicizing the grand opening describes the building as a 69-storey structure, as well as the first hotel to open in Vancouver in the past six years. But a spokesman for the city said in an email that a building permit issued in 2008 authorized a structure with 63 above-ground storeys, and that another hotel received its first licence to operate in 2014, just three years ago.
Trump Tower has become a focal point for protests over the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, comments about women and promises to build a wall to keep Mexican migrants out of the United States.
On Tuesday, several protesters began singing the national anthem and there were some heated arguments between small numbers of pro-Trump attendees and the anti-Trump demonstrators.
Beth Nesbit, who moved to Vancouver two years ago from Los Angeles and attended the protest with her two-year-old son Liam, said Trump doesn’t represent what Americans believe in.
“He doesn’t believe in women’s rights. He doesn’t believe in public education,” she said, adding that she supports Mayor Gregor Robertson’s call for the Trump name to be removed from the building.
Henry Ho of Vancouver had never been to a protest before but arrived in front of Trump Tower carrying signs that read “Dump Trump” and “Is it 2020 yet?”
“We’re not just going to be quiet and let things happen the way they are,” said the 27-year-old self-described supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“We will show that we can come together and aren’t divided by all the hate he spews out.”
After Trump’s call in 2015 for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S., a petition urging Holborn Group to dump the Trump name attracted 56,000 signatures.
Tiah told The Associated Press he’s now “locked” into his licensing agreement, with no legal grounds to back out of the deal, whose terms have not been released.
The 37-year-old said in the recent interview that he found Trump’s statements about Muslims, Mexicans and women “extremely stressful.”
“I did a lot of soul searching because people were attacking me for it,” said Tiah.
At Tuesday’s opening, he thanked God and his parents. “Thank you for being tough on me and not spoiling me. I hope you’re proud parents today,” he said.
“I want to thank the media for constantly keeping us in the spotlight,” Tiah added, prompting laughs from the crowd.
Outside the building, protesters wrote on the sidewalk in chalk and stuck colourful Post-it notes on an exterior wall with messages like “Love and compassion” and “Tweet everyone with respect.
Colleen O’Neil, 65, wrote “Your hate mongering is un-Canadian” in blue chalk in front of the building.
“Someone just said to me, ‘Why do you care? We’re in Canada,’ “ she said. “It’s happening in Canada. It’s happening all over the world now. He’s given permission for us to hate each other and kill each other.”
Joel Johnson, 40, was wearing a red “Make Canada Great Again” hat and described the protest as “ridiculous.” He said it’s time to put Canada “first” again, mentioning elderly people who can’t afford food and the skyrocketing cost of housing in Vancouver.
“Canada’s losing a lot of its values. Until we start fixing those values, we shouldn’t be taking in any more immigration,” Johnson said, adding that he supports Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch.
“I’m definitely worried about letting in unvetted people when we have people who have been waiting properly for five to six years to come into our country.”